RACINE – The woman behind two popular Racine Art Museum holiday attractions, the Peeps Art Exhibition and The Art of AdOrnaments, is retiring after more than 40 years at the museum.
RAM’s head of guest services and retail, Lisa Englander, will leave her post on December 31.
Her involvement with RAM began with a solo show on the original Wustum campus, continued with teaching various activities, managing a small gift counter to finally managing the Museum Shop and guest relations.
In retirement, Englander plans to return to her life of studio painting, where she was previously recognized nationally and internationally. She has a solo exhibition of her own work scheduled for late spring 2023 at OS Projects, 601 6th St., Racine.
She said she has a few other pending projects that will get her back in the studio.
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“I knew it was time (to retire) because I took the store through the pandemic,” Englander said while at the RAM Museum Store this month. “I mean, look around. There are many things to buy. I put my imprimatur, I put my stamp on this. It’s time for someone else to take it and move it on.”
“Under Englander’s management, our store has helped make Downtown Racine a more pleasant and welcoming place for everyone to visit, while helping people learn about art and contemporary craft,” said RAM Executive Director and Curator of Collections. Bruce Pepich said, who is also Englander’s husband. “In her time at RAM, Englander has been particularly focused on serving our guests, whether through her enthusiastic promotion of the annual Peeps art exhibit or by offering a host of special services to the store’s customers. We are grateful for her dedication to the museum and the many communities it serves.”
A decade long career
A native of New York, Englander moved in 1975 to begin graduate school, studying printmaking and museum methods, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
She won a watercolor competition and earned her first solo exhibition at RAM’s Wustum Museum campus in 1979. The museum then offered her a job teaching puppetry to children. She also learned drawing and later became a watercolor instructor.
She started running a small gift counter at Wustum in 1983.
In 2001, when the opening of RAM’s location at 441 Main Street was in its planning stages, museum leadership offered Englander the job of setting up and running the Museum Store as a full-time paid employee.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” Englander said, noting that she had to come out of the studio to take the job. “When I was asked to come and do it, I said, ‘I’ll come out of the studio for three years, I’ll help you do it and then I’ll go back to painting.’ It’s already 21.”
She started working at the RAM Museum Store on July 1, 2002, and the store opened that fall.
“As a displaced New Yorker, I wanted a place where I could shop,” she said. “I came with a list of products that I wanted to see in Racine … I wanted to present a store where people would come in and say, ‘This is the best museum store in the country.’ And they do.”
The store carries handcrafted functional and decorative objects, artist-made clothing and jewelry, books, gifts, and children’s toys that reflect RAM’s educational programs, exhibits, and permanent collections.
A few years into the job, RAM’s leadership asked Englander to oversee the museum’s guest relations along with retail operations.
Englander hoped to support artists’ careers by highlighting their work in the store and promoting sales. She added that working with the approximately 300 artists and building work and personal relationships with them were some of the best parts of the job. Watching the museum collection grow, working with “wonderful staff,” receiving gratitude from customers for her decades of service, and seeing people wear things they bought at the store were others.
“It was a great opportunity to share my taste and things I admired with a wider audience,” Englander said. “I have found my work at the museum to be challenging and extremely rewarding. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve RAM, its mission of service, the community of artists and the public.”
Englander inaugurated RAM’s annual International Peeps Art Exhibit, which showcases art made from or inspired by marshmallow peeps. The public can participate by submitting work.
“I kind of love vacations,” Englander said. “What happens to people’s psyche during the holidays, and what happens in shops and stores, is always interesting to me.”
The idea for the Peeps display came from walking down the Peeps aisle at a local pharmacy.
“I wanted to bring people to RAM at what I thought was a wonderful time of year, knowing they would see something vibrant and exciting,” she said. “It was just something to peek over.”
It was originally planned to be a small exhibit inside the RAM Museum Store, but the event quickly drew a large audience and gained attention from the greater Racine community and across the country.
Now in its 14th year, the event featured more than 2,000 different works of art and objects inspired by the popular spring candy.
Englander also founded a second public participation initiative, The Art of AdOrnaments. It was implemented so that during the holidays, when patrons shop and walk through the museum, there is something creative in the back, Englander said.
This year’s display includes holiday-inspired ornaments, creative conifers and snowflakes that are five inches or smaller in size. It continues at RAM until December 29.
Englander said it feels “pretty good” to have worked at the museum all these years and implemented the two exhibits.
“I think I did a good job,” she said. “I feel like I’ve contributed to the community here by helping keep great art in this community and keep it moving forward. And I hope to continue to do so.”
Black Friday on Main Street in Racine, in pictures